Thursday, March 7, 2013


From Catholic Culture: The key issue for the coming conclave is transparency by Phil Lawlor:

Something historic is happening in Rome this week. Not only preparations for the election of a new Roman Pontiff—although that would be historic in itself—but the clash between two incompatible visions of how the Catholic Church should present herself to the world.

Yesterday the American cardinals abruptly suspended the press briefings they had been organizing every day during the sede vacante period, apparently under pressure from other prelates. The director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, seemed more comfortable, now that the competition to his own daily briefings had been eliminated. He explained that while the cardinals were meeting for confidential discussions, it was important for all the participants to be sure that their talks would not leak into the public domain. More candid officials (and it is not difficult to find officials more candid than the Vatican’s chief spokesman) revealed that the American cardinals were shutting down their media operation because of a backlash caused by leaks to the Italian press.

There had indeed been some serious leaks. The Italian daily La Stampa, in particular, had printed detailed accounts of the “confidential” talks in the cardinals’ congregations. But these leaks had nothing to do with the American prelates’ daily briefings.

Think about it. A “leak” is, by nature, a surreptitious release of information. The American cardinals were doing nothing at all surreptitious; they were speaking in plain sight, with cameras and tape recorders rolling. If their briefings had been the source of indiscreet reports on the meetings in the Synod Hall, the whole world would have known it—and would have known exactly who broke the seal of secrecy.

There are, regrettably, always leaks from secret Vatican meetings. At a papal election, every cardinal solemnly vows that he will never disclose what happened during the conclave. Yet within a few weeks after each conclave, journalists have a fairly accurate understanding of what happened. Sad to say, some cardinals cannot keep their mouths shut, even when they have sworn to do so. Or perhaps the blame can be pinned on the few aides, translators, and technicians who have access to information from these secret sessions. In any case the leaks are completely illicit, and should not be compared with the above-board sessions arranged by the American hierarchy. Imposing a blackout on legitimate news briefings will not eliminate the illegitimate.

Yesterday scores of newspaper headlines announced that the Vatican had silenced the American bishops. Who or what is “the Vatican” in this context? The Vatican is a little city-state, ruled by the Pope. But at the moment there is no Pope. The Holy See is vacant, and since the prelates who hold high offices in the Roman Curia serve only to carry out the policies set by the Roman Pontiff, they currently have no authority. During the sede vacante period the Vatican is led by the College of Cardinals, acting in concert. There is no higher authority within the Church that could impose a gag order on the American cardinals. Evidently, then, the Americans acceded to a wish expressed by other cardinals, to avoid upsetting the serenity of the congregations. Yet they did so reluctantly. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who is (or should I say had been?) handling press relations for the American hierarchy, said bluntly: “The US cardinals are committed to transparency.”

Not all of the world’s cardinals share that commitment, apparently. The American cardinals did not want to violate the confidentiality of their colleagues, but they did want an open discussion of the challenges that face the universal Church. They wanted to air their own ideas, allowing others to comment, stimulating public discussion. They wanted their colleagues to know—wanted the world to know—what they were thinking, so that everyone would be more informed as the conclave opened. If the American cardinals had been politicking during their daily briefings, they would have deserved a public rebuke. But they had not been lobbying for votes; they had been answering questions from reporters, and raising questions for other Church leaders to address.

Every cardinal in Rome is doing the same thing: raising questions, answering questions--as a way of gaining information about the papabili and sharing opinions about the priorities of the next pontificate. Only the Americans were doing this openly, with reporters present to record their remarks. Other cardinals were going about the same business quietly, in pairs or small groups, over coffee or dinner. If an American cardinal said something imprudent during the briefings at the North American College, he was fully accountable. If other cardinals made untoward comments during their private sessions—gave inaccurate information, say, or canvassed for votes—the world would never know. Sunshine is a wonderful disinfectant, as the old saying goes. When cardinals are speaking before a battery of microphones, they are not whispering over drinks.

Some cardinals—perhaps many cardinals—evidently thought that by catering to reporters, the American cardinals were increasing the influence of the press and the likelihood of unfavorable media coverage. That attitude is profoundly misguided. The American prelates’ briefings had been the best source of solid information for the hundreds of reporters covering the cardinals’ meetings. (The “official” briefings by the Vatican press office offer only the most cautious, circumspect, and general hints about what the cardinals have been saying, combined with detailed information on the esoteric aspects of the papal election: the ceremonial urns one day, the cardinals’ residence the next.) Without access to that source of solid information, reporters searching for stories will now have more incentive to hunt down rumors, innuendos, scandals…yes, and leaks.

Even the blackout itself produced negative headlines for the Church. As John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter pointed out, Cardinal Timothy Dolan had been scheduled to address reporters. Inevitably the gregarious prelate from New York would have captivated reporters with his homespun expressions and one-liners, along with some pointed insights. Instead reporters were left with a story about a Vatican crackdown on prelates who break with the ingrown culture of ecclesiastical omerta.

Again, who are these influential Vatican figures who seem able to impose their will on the College of Cardinals? We do not know their names (although we may have suspicions) because they act behind closed doors, and do not take public responsibility for their decisions. But we do know that the Old Guard at the Vatican cherishes a certain distinctive approach to Church governance: an impersonal, top-down approach, in which officials make decisions without offering explanations, and dispense information strictly on a need-to-know basis.

Like any entrenched bureaucracy, the Old Guard at the Vatican protects its own position. So the Old Guard does not want the College of Cardinals to press for more information about the recent embarrassments of the Roman Curia, most conspicuously the “Vatileaks” scandal. Since the Old Guard is the best-organized bloc among the cardinals, its members do not want to allow time for other blocs to form; thus the Old Guard pressed for a quick conclave, in which the cardinals would choose a new Pontiff without pausing to ask inconvenient questions or consider unwanted possibilities.

Although the US cardinals agreed reluctantly to cease their daily briefings, it is significant that the College of Cardinals has not acceded to the pressure for a quick conclave. The Old Guard has apparently lost that contest, in what could be a preview of a fascinating papal conclave.

In the months leading up to the Second Vatican Council, the Old Guard then ensconced in the Roman Curia prepared a series of carefully worded documents for the Council’s approval. To their surprise and dismay, the Council fathers rejected those drafts, demanding more visionary statements. The Old Guard wanted to continue with business as usual; the leaders of the universal Church chose otherwise. Could something similar be happening in Rome this week? Could the cardinals be on the verge of rejecting the old approach and demanding accountability of Church officials?

In 2005, when the world’s cardinals entered the conclave to choose a successor to Blessed John Paul II, there was one question clearly uppermost in their minds: whether or not Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger should be elected. Next week—or whenever the conclave begins—I believe there will again be a single question at the top of the cardinals’ agenda: whether or not the Church will opt for transparency and accountability.

The blackout of the American cardinals has only heightened the tensions between two competing visions of the Church, and ironically enhanced the influence of the American hierarchy. This is not a matter of liberals vs. conservatives, or progressive vs. traditionalists, or First World vs. Third World, or centralization vs. decentralization. It is a conflict between those who see ecclesiastical power as an entitlement and those who recognize it as a responsibility—between those whose model for Vatican administration resembles the court of a 17th-century monarch and those who believe that anyone working in the Roman Curia is merely a servant of the Pope, who himself is the Servant of the Servants of God.


Gregorian Mass said...

Maybe wherever Latin has been eclipsed or not taught thru and thru it should be restored...All internal meetings and future Conclaves should be held in Latin only. Less eavesdropping would be possible and few people but the people in the know would be able to understand snippets of information that they may overhear, then report and embellish. Since translation is often difficult to capture the exact intention of Latin phrases etc., only those speaking would know exactly what they mean. Less erroneous interpretations to fly around. Latin could act as a safeguard, not perfect but perhaps a better way. The importance of Latin is stressed in Pope John XXIII's Veterum Sapientia and the wisdom of its' intention and instructions becomes more clear with each passing decade...If Hebrew was completely revived there is no reason at all Latin can not be used by all prelates of the Church. In fact doesn't Canon law demand such. A complete, sound understanding of Latin at Ordination. If I am not incorrect I believe someone stands up and attests to this fact during the ceremony for each Priest.

ytc said...

"There had indeed been some serious leaks. The Italian daily La Stampa, in particular, had printed detailed accounts of the “confidential” talks in the cardinals’ congregations. But these leaks had nothing to do with the American prelates’ daily briefings."

Who cares? Does the author suggest that each cardinal be vetted before being "allowed" (or not) to go around giving interviews during Sede Vacante? It is so much easier and practical to simply allow their mouth, Frs. Lombardi and Rosica, to do the talking, and for them to do the praying and voting.

I agree that, in normal circumstances, a level of transparency--or at least something that looks like it...--should be had. But Sede Vacante is an extraordinary time. Does the author suggest prelates start going around whispering to the MSM about picks for bishop?

"Imposing a blackout on legitimate news briefings will not eliminate the illegitimate." Pretending there actually is any legitimate news will not eliminate the illegitimate.

I am not interested in a lick of transparency with such matters of Pontifical Secret. Going on about this and that, this issue and that issue, this and that country, just gets everyone riled up waiting for "The First Black Pope." Chill out. Don't feed reporters anything. Even better, lock the Cardinals in the Domus Sanctae Marthae as soon as they arrive in Rome.

And what is this blathering about "models of Church?" When did anyone ever think of such a concept until modern day? The Church is a holistic thing, not an organization we sit around and make mission statements and sales targets for. The Church isn't any "way," the Church just "is."

Inflammatory O'Connor said...

Malachi Martin once penned a book, long out of print, called The Last Conclave. The book presented a no-holds-barred conclave where "Spirit of Vatican II" cardinals, progressives, traditionalists and others had a virtual verbal fistfight while debating the future of the Church. I never thought such a conclave description was realistic. Now I'm convinced there's no way they can escape such a conclave. I would not be at all surprised if more unsettling news leaks before the lock themselves up together. We must all pray that a worthy successor exits wearing white.

John Nolan said...

A papal election in the television age is going to be a media circus anyway, and I don't see what the Americans were hoping to gain with their media operation. If they had anything serious to say, the press wouldn't be in the least bit interested. I cringe whenever a senior cleric appears in a television studio; within a few minutes he's bound to put his foot in it. O'Brien did so spectacularly in his last interview as archbishop. Dolan's "homespun expressions and one-liners" are quite frankly embarrassing and undignified. As for "transparency and accountability" this is what every politician promises at election time. They're never delivered because politics simply doesn't work that way.

Can you see a televised tribunal of the Holy Office sitting in judgement on sundry heretics such as Bourgeois, Farley and Chittister, followed by a public auto-de-fe in St Peter's Square? Neither can I, although the prospect is certainly alluring.

As for accountability, I'm sure the LCWR and Wir Sind Kirche would love the Vatican to be accountable to them, rather than to the Vicar of Christ.

Joseph Johnson said...

When I read all this about the Curial side versus everyone else (including the Americans) I see it personified in Cardinal Bertone versus Cardinal George. Now, if that is a fairly accurate "sum up" or personification of the two factions let's remember which of the two has been more favorable to traditionalist causes such as the EF Mass. I might be totally wrong on this but I don't think it's Bertone or those of his mindset. He may be the Emeritus Pope's old friend but I don't think he always exactly acted as his servant while the EP was still Pope.

Gene said...

Transparency is a new media word that demands everything be made a public events circus. There are some things, many things, the public does not need to know. Given America's penchant for mindless disinformation and manufactured scandal, I think the Cardinals do need to keep their mouths shut.

Unknown said...

All of this could be pretty well squashed if Their Eminences would just shut their mouths and do what they are supposed to do.

To be honest, I've had people over people, over people asking me who I think will be the next Pope. Perhaps it's because I'm a Catechist for my diocese, perhaps not, but my answer is always the same.

It doesn't matter. The Holy Ghost will guide them and a Pope will be chosen. We will accept him and that should be enough.

Sadly, it never is. I am not blogging about the Conclave, because no matter what I write, or what I emote, it will change nothing. I am praying for Their Eminences to be guided by the Holy Ghost and that should be enough.

Gene said...

BTW, So-called transparency and accountability are not the same thing.

Pater Ignotus said...

John - I don't think the Americans were seeking to "gain" anything for themselves with their press briefings. On the contrary, I think they wanted the rest of the world to gain an understanding of 1) some of the more arcane technicalities of the process of choosing a pope, 2)the serious issues the next pope will have to address, and 3) a greater respect for Church leaders who, by numerous missteps in the not-so-distant past, have become the targets of derision.

As bishops, these men are servants. They were serving us until the gag order came down from on high.

John Nolan said...

Pater, I wasn't suggesting that they were trying to gain anything for themselves. But they are not in Rome to lecture the next pontiff on his responsibilities. I don't think Ratzinger was one bit pleased when the US scandals of the 1970s and 1980s landed on his desk at the beginning of this century - scandals attributable to the failure of the American hierarchy to deal with dissent bordering on heresy, de facto schism, collapse of liturgy, catechesis and education (all of which are still going on, check the NCR combox if you don't believe me). It was against this background that sexual abuse took place. They need to put their own house in order before lecturing everyone else. Large sections of the North American Church have been on the verge of secession for decades. There have been, and are, problems elsewhere, but not on the same scale.

Gene said...

Why do we need to know about the arcane process of choosing a Pope?

How is yakking to the press serving us?

Pater Ignotus said...

John - No one lectured a pope on his responsibilities. The Cardinals expressed perfectly legitimate concerns - concerns they and, from what we read, many Cardinals share.

If not personal gain, then what "gain" were you suggesting when you said, " I don't see what the Americans were hoping to gain with their media operation."

John Nolan said...


In this context 'gain' simply means 'achieve'; it doesn't imply personal advantage, at least in British English. It might have a different nuance in North America.

The most important questions need to be asked by bishops in relation to what is happening in their own dioceses.

Pater Ignotus said...

John - I think the Cardinals were trying to achieve "an understanding of 1) some of the more arcane technicalities of the process of choosing a pope, 2)the serious issues the next pope will have to address, and 3) a greater respect for Church leaders who, by numerous missteps in the not-so-distant past, have become the targets of derision."

Nothing nefarious or underhanded here.

John Nolan said...

PI, I take your point. Collegiality needs to be addressed, and so does subsidiarity. Unfortunately the latter failed spectacularly in the case of clerical sexual abuse, and too many bishops would still like to shuffle off their responsibilities onto the Holy See and be all things to all men in their own bailiwick. I'm not singling out the US bishops since the E&W ones are just as bad, if not worse; at least some of your bishops don't think they have to be in lockstep with the national 'Conference'.